Professor Mike Gasson is Head of Food Safety Science at the Institute of Food Research, a BBSRC-funded institute situated like the John Innes Centre on the Research Park in Norwich, UK. Prof Gasson is a member of the Government's Advisory Committee on the Microbiological Safety of Food (ACMSF) and also served for nine years, from 1992-2001, as a Member of the Advisory Committee on Novel Foods and Processes (ACNFP), the UK's main regulatory committee dealing with GM food safety, including four years as its Deputy Chairman . In September 2003 Gasson took over from Janet Bainbridge as the ACNFP's chairman. He also, like Bainbridge, served on the UK Government's GM science review panel which concluded that the human health risks of GM food were low.
However, there are serious concerns over the objectivity with which Mike Gasson is prepared to evaluate evidence on GM food safety. Of particular concern is a paper which he co-authored with Derek Burke, another former Chairman of the ACNFP. The paper, 'Scientific perspectives on regulating the safety of genetically modified foods', (Nature Reviews - Genetics 2 217-222, 2001), has been quoted, most notably by the Royal Society, as showing that the research findings of Dr Arpad Pusztai had been superceded by subsequent research into GM food safety.
Pusztai's research, into the possible toxicity of GM potatoes, showed adverse effects on the growth of rats and their immune function, but Gasson & Burke's paper argued that further studies, focusing on the specific effects reported by him, had now been completed and no adverse effects had been found. These studies involved feeding GM sweet peppers and GM tomatoes to rats, and GM soya to mice and rats.
However, on examination of the GM pepper and GM tomato feeding study in Gasson & Burke, it turns out to be not a normal published piece of peer reviewed research but merely a draft submitted by Chinese scientists to an unspecified journal. The other paper referred to by Gasson & Burke was by Japanese authors and it had been published, albeit in a fairly obscure journal, but is of such a dubious character as to make it impossible to draw scientifically valid conclusions from it. 'If this study had been done in the UK,' Dr Pusztai points out, 'the researchers would have lost their animal licence and the research would have been forcefully terminated. In this totally unphysiological study it was quite scandalous that in 105 days the young rats were made to suffer as they grew only just over 20 grams in body weight and the mice none at all. Accordingly, from this Japanese study of starving rats one cannot draw any scientifically valid conclusions...'